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Mr Hague: I will come to Yemen in a moment, to which several of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and I give great priority. The Friends of Yemen meeting may have been overtaken by events, but the Gulf Co-operation Council is attempting to convene a meeting to bring about agreement between Government and opposition forces in Yemen on the way forward. That is the essential next step.

Mr Ellwood: My right hon. Friend has explained the gargantuan changes taking place across the region. There can be a tendency on our part to celebrate the removal of one dictator but then encourage the same thing to continue somewhere else. Will my right hon. Friend focus on what is happening in Egypt, where the revolution—if we can call it that—is only 40% of the way there? There are worrying developments involving the Muslim Brotherhood and the army excluding other opposition voices. Where Egypt goes other Arab countries often follow. We may have got rid of one dictatorship, but we need to be careful about what is put in its place.

Mr Hague: That is a very helpful intervention because it brings me neatly on to the next paragraph of my intended speech, which is about exactly that point.

The Prime Minister and I both met young people in Egypt and Tunisia respectively whose passionate desire to live in democratic societies bounded by the rule of law was inspiring and a great source of optimism for the future of those countries. We are ready to play our part and help to ensure that the scenario that my hon. Friend pointed to does not come about. In Tunisia, I announced our new Arab partnership initiative, which will support the development of the core building blocks of democracy, including free media, civil society, political participation and private sector development—work that we hope will be continued for many years with cross-party support in this House. We are already funding experts to assist Tunisia’s political reform commission as it drafts the new electoral law. We are also offering advice on financial governance and the key economic challenges that the country faces. In Egypt, our embassy is working closely with the Government, opposition political activists and think-tanks, calling for a clear timetable for democratic elections that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

We will continue that active role in British foreign policy. The Prime Minister and I have between us visited 11 countries in the region since January, and we will be visiting many more, but this is clearly a challenge to the international community as a whole. Together we must encourage further change across the region, support those countries that have already made a democratic transition and welcome positive steps towards reform by others, which is an important part of the policy. Such steps include the Government of Algeria ending their state of emergency, the important statements made by the King of Morocco last week on constitutional reform, and the programmes of political and economic reform put forward by the leaders of Jordan and Oman. These are all important steps that have been brought about directly by recent events.

Iran, of course, is an exception to that. Iran has shown breathtaking hypocrisy in claiming to support freedom in the Arab world, while violently suppressing demonstrations and detaining opposition leaders back

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home—acts that we deplore. We want Iranian citizens to enjoy full civil, political and human rights, and all the benefits of an open relationship with the rest of the world, but that will require the settlement of the nuclear issue, where the ball is firmly in Iran’s court. Until Iran negotiates seriously on that issue, the international pressure on it will only increase.

[Official Report, 22 March 2011, Vol. 525, c. 24MC.]

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Foreign Secretary is right that there is a passion for democracy, although I find that this passion is often shared more by would-be politicians and political leaders. The public in Egypt and many other countries want not just free elections but, much more importantly, the institutions that are the foundation of democracy—the rule of law, a free and independent judiciary, and a free press. Obviously they take rather longer to develop, but what efforts will we make to ensure that they develop?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is quite right that democracy is not just the holding of elections. We are all familiar with countries where elections of a kind are held, but we would not call them democracies. Indeed, some of the countries concerned used to hold elections. Democracy does indeed require all those things—an independent judiciary, strong civil institutions, free media, and so on. I have already outlined what we are doing in Tunisia to support their development, and I want to put the argument about what the European Union as a whole can do to encourage them.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The Foreign Secretary mentioned the position of the Iranian Government. Does he share my absolute disgust at the nauseating, hypocritical remarks of President Ahmadinejad, who has protested about what is happening in Bahrain, but at the same time is suppressing people in his own country? Can the Foreign Secretary say something about the role that Iran might be playing in fomenting difficulties between Shi’a and Sunni communities in the Arab world?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman does not overstate his case. The words that he uses are wholly appropriate to the words and behaviour of the President of Iran. I do not have direct evidence of Iranian interference in, for instance, the affairs of Bahrain—although many would suspect such interference and influence—but with Iran’s links to Hezbollah and Hamas, I do not think that it is currently playing a positive role in bringing about peace in the middle east.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that economic progress in such countries will be an important buttress to democratic progress? Does he also agree that a unity of purpose both among European Union and NATO members and across the Atlantic will give us the best chance of achieving the objectives that he has set out?

Mr Hague: Yes, very much so. Again, that brings me to my next point.

There are many international organisations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, that will have an important role to play in supporting democratic development in the region. However, there is a particular onus on European countries to be bold and ambitious.

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In a sense we have been here before, when we helped the young democracies of central and eastern Europe. The nations of north Africa are not European and will not join the European Union. Nevertheless, this is the most significant watershed in the external relations of the EU since that time, and we must be ready with a positive vision for the region that can act as a magnet for change.

Over the past two months, the Prime Minister and I have made the case in EU meetings for a transformed EU neighbourhood policy that supports the building blocks of democracy in the Arab world, offers incentives for positive change and targets its funding effectively. The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, and I wrote to our colleagues last week calling for a comprehensive partnership of equals between the peoples of Europe and the European neighbourhood, underpinned by deeper and wider economic integration and using the many instruments at the disposal of the EU to promote freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights. We believe that this transformation partnership should bring all the EU levers and incentives into one policy, and give the greatest support and benefits to those countries reforming fastest, with clear conditions attached.

We have proposed a path towards deeper economic integration with the European market, in clear stages leading up to a free trade area and, eventually, a customs union, progressively covering goods, agriculture and services. We are calling for an increase in the number of scholarships and grants, access to the resources of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the re-apportionment of EU funds in favour of democratic reforms, the removal of existing quotas for countries that disregard the fundamental values of the EU, and consideration of an EU regional protection programme for north Africa to support the protection of displaced persons and to improve local infrastructure.

Mr Cash: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hague: I did not want to upset my hon. Friend by talking about the European Union, which in this case has a hugely positive role to play, with the nations of Europe acting together. I will give way to him one more time.

Mr Cash: In the light of the Prime Minister’s attempts to get a no-fly zone—which are greatly appreciated by many people on this side, and across the House—and the problem of not being able to supply arms to the resistance, surely the Foreign Secretary understands that these problems have arisen because the European Union, among others, has been resistant to those ideas. We do not have the necessary unity, and talking about quotas, assets and all the rest of it has no bearing on the real problem, which is that we need to help the people who are in such peril in Libya at the moment.

Mr Hague: I am going to talk about Libya in a moment. What I am talking about now is the long-term approach of the United Kingdom and, we hope, the whole of the European Union to the region. I am talking about the offer that should be made, and the magnet that should be held out to encourage positive change in the region. If all the levers and policies of the

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European Union relating to its neighbourhood were brought into one coherent policy, even my hon. Friend might be driven to agree that that could play a positive role in the developments in the region.

Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the European neighbourhood policy has spent several billion euros over the years on trying to evolve a policy on that region. At the same time, Turkey has been much more successful, in economic and political terms. Will he tell us whether Turkey will be included in this new initiative, rather than excluded, as it has been in the past?

Mr Hague: Yes, that is a very important point. I certainly want this to be coherently organised with Turkey as well. Turkey is of course a positive model of democracy in a Muslim nation, and it has a vital role to play in the entire future development of the middle east. That is one of the reasons that we have placed such importance on bilateral relations with Turkey, and on the EU’s relations with the country.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): First, may I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his excellent leadership of his Department, given the multiple challenges that it faces? I also congratulate his ministerial colleagues.

Turkey wants to become a key member of the European Union. It is today a key member of NATO. This is a moment of truth for Turkey. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Prime Minister Erdogan’s statement that the no-fly zone proposed by the United Kingdom Prime Minister would be an unacceptable intervention in Libya will perhaps not help Turkey to attract the support of the Turkey-sceptics in this House or in other European Parliaments, especially that of France, that it needs?

Mr Hague: We must not expect the countries that we work with to agree with us or with each other on every single issue all the time. Yes, the Prime Minister of Turkey has made remarks to that effect, but that does not mean that Turkey will not have a powerful role to play in the wider relationship between the European nations and the countries of the middle east over the next decade.

The European Union must now follow through on the European Council’s declaration of last Friday and make a real and credible offer to those countries, involving genuinely broader market access and the prospect of closer association with Europe. I hope that there will be considerable support across the House for such an approach. It is a long-standing strength of British foreign policy towards the middle east that it receives a wide degree of bipartisan support—tripartisan support, indeed—in Parliament and beyond, and that is something that this Government hope to foster and continue.

I also believe that there is support in the House for our view that the peace process must not become a casualty of uncertainty in the region. It is too important to be allowed to fail. There are dangerous undercurrents in the region, including the existence of armed groups wedded to violence and young people vulnerable to radicalisation, and a vacuum in the peace process risks conflict and even greater instability. Furthermore, the changing situation on the ground—in particular the illegal encroachment of settlements on the west bank

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and East Jerusalem, the isolation of Gaza and the entrenchment of Palestinian divisions—has made a two-state solution harder to achieve. Such a solution is the only lasting hope for sustainable peace and security in the region, but it is possible to foresee that the option of a two-state solution will have an expiry date if it is not taken up now.

In our view, the Quartet could help to achieve a breakthrough in the current stalemate by setting out in a statement the parameters for a future settlement. These should include: 1967 borders with equivalent land swaps; arrangements that protect Israel’s security and respect Palestinian sovereignty; just, fair and agreed solutions for refugees; and Jerusalem as the capital of both states. The statement should call on both sides to commit to negotiations based on those clear principles. Britain, France and Germany made such a statement at the UN on 18 February.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I certainly recognise all the difficulties that the Foreign Secretary has identified, but does he also recognise the problems created by Iran in relation to the peace process? For example, it sent more than 50 tonnes of illegal weapons bound for Gaza on a ship that was intercepted by the Israelis only a few days ago.

Mr Hague: I fully recognise the often deeply unhelpful role of Iran; I have already referred to that in a different context. I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady about that, but I also say, as a long-standing friend of Israel, that putting real energy into bringing about a two-state solution is the best way to secure the future that the friends of Israel want to see for it—namely, as a peaceful, secure democracy and a homeland for the Jewish people. We will make that case energetically over the coming weeks. For Britain, that also includes continuing our firm and frank dialogue with Syria on Lebanon, including the special tribunal for Lebanon, and on the importance of progress on a peace agreement between Syria and Israel.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Settlements are often cited as a barrier to peace, but does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that Israel initiated a 10-month freeze on the building of settlements and that the Palestinians came to the negotiations nine months later, leaving only one month for talks?

Mr Hague: I am not arguing that all the fault is on one side. There have been failures by Israeli and Palestinian leaders over the past few years to take the opportunity to make real progress in the peace process. However, I strongly wish that the Israeli Government had decided to continue the moratorium on settlement building, in order to give the direct talks that began last September a better chance. We urge all concerned, on both sides, to make the necessary compromises to bring about peace.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hague: I am conscious that many other hon. Members wish to speak, so perhaps I should continue. I want to talk about the instability in Bahrain, Yemen and, of course, Libya. I shall then conclude my speech so that others can speak.

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As we speak, there is continued unrest in Bahrain and deep instability in Yemen. In both cases, our immediate priority is the welfare of British nationals as well as the need to support dialogue and political reform. In Bahrain, the situation is serious and deteriorating, and the whole House will deplore the loss of life and the escalation of violence. The Prime Minister spoke to the King of Bahrain two evenings ago to emphasise that violence is unacceptable and counter-productive—whether it be from protesters, vigilante groups or the security forces. I spoke to the Foreign Minister of Bahrain along the same lines yesterday.

We call on all security forces in the country not to use violence against the demonstrators, and on the demonstrators not to engage in provocative or intimidating actions. It is essential for all sides to take steps to calm the situation in Bahrain. We are extremely concerned by reports that opposition figures have been arrested. We do not want to see a reversion to the days when Bahrain routinely held political prisoners. The Government and the security forces must respect the civil rights of peaceful protesters, the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and must uphold their obligations to ensure that wounded protesters get immediate access to medical treatment. We also call on opposition groups to enter the dialogue offered by the Bahraini Government and to desist from violence themselves.

We advise against all travel to Bahrain until further notice and we recommend that British nationals who do not have a pressing reason to remain should leave. The first option for British nationals should remain commercial routes, which continue to fly to and from Bahrain international airport, which is operating normally. In addition, the UK Government are chartering planes to supplement those commercial flights. That will assist the departure of British nationals from Bahrain to Dubai today and further flights will be provided as needed.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I have absolutely no illusions about the thuggery of Gaddafi, which has been evident since 1969. If we had already intervened in Libya—I mean western intervention or British intervention on its own—would not the response inevitably be, including from myself, why not intervene in Bahrain?

Mr Hague: It is important not to think about the issue—I am coming on to Libya in a few moments—in terms of western intervention; it is about the responsibilities of the wider world, including the Arab world. That is why we have said that whatever we do in Libya—it applies to other nations as well—it must be legal; there must be a demonstrable need for it; and there should be broad support for it within the region. Any action that appeared to be “the west” trying to impose itself on these countries would be counter-productive, as has been suggested.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con) rose

Mr Hague: I will give way one more time, to my hon. Friend, before I move on to deal with Libya.

Rehman Chishti: I thank the Foreign Secretary, but does he agree that the monarchy in Bahrain has made considerable reforms, including a referendum on a

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constitution in 2001 and an elected Parliament? Has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of Iran’s current involvement in the Bahrain situation?

Mr Hague: I mentioned Iran’s involvement earlier, but I agree with my hon. Friend that there have been many positive attempts at reform in Bahrain. It is important not to view Bahrain and Libya as analogous. In the case of Bahrain, the Government have genuinely offered dialogue with opposition groups and offered a referendum on a new constitution. Colonel Gaddafi is not in the position of offering a referendum to his people on a constitution—he is at the other extreme. All these circumstances should not be considered to be analogous.

We are also advising against all travel to the whole of Yemen, where the situation is very fragile. On 4 March, we advised all British nationals in Yemen to leave by commercial means if they had no pressing reason to remain. On 12 March, we updated our advice to nationals saying they should leave immediately by commercial means while they are still available. We welcome the President’s initiative a week ago, in which he set out plans to amend the Yemeni constitution, to move from a presidential to a parliamentary system and to respect the right of peaceful protest and address the protesters’ demands. The Yemeni authorities must now urgently demonstrate their commitment to dialogue with all opposition groups committed to a peaceful and orderly political transition. Violence and other heavy-handed techniques against peaceful protesters undermine attempts to create dialogue and diplomatic activity in support of it. All Yemenis have the right to protest peacefully and participate in the political process. We urge all parties to come together in a constructive and credible fashion to achieve an orderly transition so that all Yemenis, with the support of the UK and Friends of Yemen, can address the urgent economic needs of their country. We continue to follow developments closely.

The most immediate challenge—several hon. Members have already raised the issue and it is the last subject that I shall address—continues to be the appalling situation in Libya. As we speak, regime forces continue to bombard rebel-held areas and are making threats to retake Benghazi. We remind all concerned in Libya that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has begun his investigation, and that for those committing or considering crimes, the reach of international justice will be long.

The UK has been at the forefront, with France, of international efforts to isolate the Gaddafi regime. As we have been reminded in the debate, time has been of the essence throughout this crisis, as the regime has sought to use every day to regain ground. We have already achieved the fastest EU sanctions, the fastest UN Security Council sanctions regime, the fastest referral to the International Criminal Court and the first suspension of a member state by the UN Human Rights Council. We are working at this moment to agree a new UN Security Council resolution, following up urgently the lead given by the Arab League, which has called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya and the creation of safe areas in places exposed to shelling.

The grounds for a new resolution are clear: there are multiple breaches of resolution 1970. Gaddafi is ignoring the Security Council’s unanimous call for

“an immediate end to violence”,

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and we also have concerns about the policing of the arms embargo and the use of mercenaries. Following extensive consultations with Lebanon, France, the US and others, the text of a further UN Security Council resolution on Libya will be under discussion today.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I completely agree that, as far as Libya is concerned, we cannot be bystanders. The Prime Minister has acknowledged in the past 24 hours the wide range of views on the Security Council about the no-fly zone, and I was encouraged by the Foreign Secretary’s comments. I was surprised, however, to read that the Prime Minister has spoken to President Obama about Libya and the imposition of a no-fly zone only once in the last week. I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary could expand on what he sees as the principal obstacle for the American Administration in moving towards the no-fly zone. In the Foreign Secretary’s view, what is holding them back?

Mr Hague: There is nothing holding them back. Yesterday, the US proposed a strengthening of the resolution, which the UK, France and Lebanon put forward together at the Security Council, so the US position came out very clearly there. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as I said earlier, there is massive, sometimes hourly contact between the United States and the United Kingdom—at the Security Council, with the Secretary of State, with the National Security Adviser, with the State Department, with the Pentagon and between 10 Downing street and the White House. That contact is going on all the time, so trying to make out that we are not in touch with the US Government, when we should all be working together on these huge issues, has something ridiculous about it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hague: I shall give way only to Members to whom I have not already given way. I really must conclude my speech in a few minutes’ time.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend. Will he confirm whether assessments show that a no-fly zone is likely to be effective against the ground attacks against the Libyan rebels? Will he confirm that in order to mount such a no-fly operation quickly, carrier-borne aircraft—sadly, not ours—will be essential at the beginning? Will he further confirm that if we are involved in such operations, they will be paid for by funds additional to the existing defence budget and not subtracted from it?

Mr Hague: Financial arrangements will depend on the circumstances and discussions in government, and are secondary to the urgency of taking these decisions. No, carrier-borne aircraft are not necessary, as none of the contingency planning of any of the nations involves the use of aircraft carriers. I agree with my hon. Friend on one point—that a no-fly zone is not the complete answer, although it might be one element that helps. Having a no-fly zone does not mean that everything would be sorted out and everybody would be fully protected. We should not pretend otherwise. As I say, it is one element and the Arab League has called for it.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Hague: I cannot give way to Members to whom I have given way already. In order to be fair to the House, I must end my speech in a few minutes. However, I will give way to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan), because I have not given way to him before.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): Notwithstanding the bravery of the diplomatic corps and, indeed, the military in Libya, may I share with the Foreign Secretary the experiences of my constituent James Coyle, who was eventually brought back to Britain from Libya? He and his family, and indeed his employer, experienced great difficulty in communicating with the Foreign Office and obtaining information. Has the Foreign Secretary had time to reflect on what lessons have been learned, and on how we can best deal with such circumstances in the future?

Mr Hague: It is important for the hon. Gentleman to remember that, thanks to the commendable organisation, immense bravery and skill of the Royal Air Force and the special forces, people such as his constituent were lifted out of the desert in Libya and brought safely home. That is something of which we in the House should be proud, rather than trying to find fault with the way in which the exercise was carried out. I am sure that people who are rescued in those circumstances will be grateful for what the United Kingdom did for them. Certainly the people of 43 other nationalities in whose evacuation from Libya we assisted are very grateful for our assistance.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hague: I will give way, for the last time, to my right hon. and learned Friend the former Foreign Secretary.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: My right hon. Friend told us that a new Security Council resolution might be in the process of being tabled. If I understood him correctly, he said that part of the thinking behind it related to evidence that Colonel Gaddafi might be seeking to breach the arms embargo restrictions. Does he agree that it would be intolerable for the Gaddafi regime—which is already very heavily armed—to be able to continue to obtain additional armaments while the insurgents who are fighting it are being denied access to any military equipment because of legal advice that the arms embargo has been drafted so tightly that it extends beyond the Gaddafi regime to other elements in Libya? If there is to be a new Security Council resolution, will my right hon. Friend do all in his power to ensure that it clarifies the fact that the embargo is directed against the Gaddafi regime, and does not prevent the provision of help for those who are fighting it?

Mr Hague: The situation described by my right hon. and learned Friend would indeed be intolerable. That is why the proper enforcement and policing of the arms embargo is an important and legitimate subject for the resolution. However, I do not want to leave my right hon. and learned Friend in any doubt about what the Security Council intended by the arms embargo in resolution 1970. It was clearly intended to apply to the whole of Libya. Any change would have to be embodied

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in a further resolution: that is the legal position, as understood by the Security Council and all its permanent members. The solution, or attempt at a solution, that is most likely to be agreed by the Security Council is a thorough and full enforcement and policing of the arms embargo, rather than amendments to an embargo that was agreed nearly three weeks ago.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hague: No, I will not give way any more. I must be fair to the rest of the House.

The draft resolution that is being discussed today includes demands for an immediate ceasefire, a complete end to violence, and a ban on all flights in Libyan airspace with the exception of humanitarian flights. It authorises all necessary measures to enforce compliance with that ban. It calls for all necessary measures short of an occupation force to protect civilians under threat of attack, including those in Benghazi. It also includes a variety of measures to enforce the arms embargo in Libya, to tighten the assets freeze and travel ban imposed on regime members, and to deny Libyan planes permission to take off from, land in or overfly the territory of UN member states.

There is a range of views in the Security Council on the measures that have been proposed, and the draft resolution already reflects that range of views. We must not pretend that agreement on the proposal, or even on large elements of it, will be easy. However, we are clear about the fact that it is right to seek authority for a combination of measures for the people of Libya, for all those in the region who are campaigning for change, and for Britain’s national security. Negotiations on the proposals are beginning now in New York, and the Government will keep the House and the country informed of developments as they arise. We will do our utmost to ensure the passing of a resolution that places the maximum pressure on the Libyan regime and extends protection to the beleaguered and oppressed civilian population of Libya.

This, then, is our approach to the middle east. It is to be on the side of the legitimate hopes and aspirations of millions of people who seek change and reform; to encourage Europe to act as a magnet for the long-term future for economic openness and political stability and democracy; to champion the cause of the middle east peace process, and to advocate renewed strong international engagement on it; to confront the dangers posed by the nuclear intentions of Iran; to seek, however we can and at all times, to protect British nationals and bring them to safety; to encourage dialogue in very troubled countries such as Bahrain and Yemen; and now—today—to seek international agreement on protection and support for the people of Libya.

1.6 pm

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): Let me begin by associating myself with the Foreign Secretary’s expression of support for the people of Japan. I have noted all that he has told the House today about the position of United Kingdom nationals. I urge him to continue to monitor this very worrying situation closely, and, of course, to keep the public and the House up to date in the days ahead.

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I welcome the debate. It is always important for the House to dedicate time to discussing complex issues such as this, but it is especially significant today. As Members in all parts of the House will be aware, we meet at a time when north Africa and the middle east face a moment of great possibility but also great peril. In the 20th century, our own continent of Europe twice generated conflicts that in turn engulfed the world. Today, the middle east generates many of the most threatening challenges faced by the international community.

The courageous youthful protests and their advocacy of human rights, freedom and democracy, in what has come to be termed the Arab spring, have swept aside old assumptions, and still present an opportunity for the catalysing of fundamental change in the region. Although these popular revolts have been generated within and not beyond the region, I believe that the international community must develop a coherent and strategic response which encompasses countries that have experienced popular revolts in recent weeks and now aspire to be democratic Governments, and other countries in the region with which we have long-standing relations; which maps our response to the security challenges that still confront the region; and which, even at this late hour, responds with urgency to the distinctive circumstances in Libya.

Mr Jenkin: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Alexander: I am keen to make a little progress, but I shall be happy to take an intervention later.

Peace and security in the middle east remains one of the most important foreign policy objectives of our country. Let me begin by addressing the conflict that has generated grievance across the region for so many decades: the Israel-Palestine conflict. There is today, I believe, fairly broad agreement across the House about the steps that are required for movement from a peace process to a peace agreement. We are broadly united in the view that the entire international community, including our friends and allies in the United States, should now support the 1967 borders with land swaps as the basis for resumed negotiations. The outcome of those negotiations should be two states, with Jerusalem as a future capital of both, and a fair settlement for refugees. My party will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government if they take the necessary steps to bring others in the region, and beyond, to that point of view. Let me incidentally affirm that the Government’s decision this month to back a United Nations Security Council resolution making clear Britain’s opposition to illicit settlement building by Israel was the right decision, despite the veto exercised by the United States.

Jeremy Corbyn: Does my right hon. Friend not accept that settlement building is illegal, end of? Why are we still talking about moratoriums and suspensions, when the issue should be no settlement building whatsoever, and withdrawal of those settlements from the west bank? This should not be a matter for negotiation; it should be a matter for the assertion of international law.

Mr Alexander: I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I say that there may be a rather Jesuitical distinction between a moratorium and an end to settlements. However,

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we are on common ground in believing that settlements are illegal. As I have said, this is an urgent issue, which needs to be addressed through a reinvigorated process in the months ahead.

Historians will spend decades analysing the causes of the sweeping changes across the broader region in recent months, but we can, perhaps, all agree on one overriding factor. In a speech in Cairo in 2009, President Obama affirmed his

“unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”

The events of the last few months have given the lie to the idea of Arab exceptionalism: the notion that somehow the middle east is immune to the appeal of more democratic governance and that the aspiration for a better life is somehow not universal. We can, and must, use British influence to support political transitions in north Africa, a region that is just 8 miles from Europe at its nearest point. Europe’s security and stability would be better served by having more stable, prosperous and democratic neighbours on its southern border.

I have said previously that I believe the European Union to have been “slow off the mark” in its response to the events in Egypt and Tunisia, but the EU has an honourable record in assisting its eastern neighbours in their transition to democracy. For those countries to the east, there was a clear link between democratisation and the rule of law and the goal of accession. Given that accession is not on offer to the north African countries, we must think about what Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski has rather colourfully called “multiple small carrots” in respect of European support for countries in transition to democracy in north Africa. In years to come, that should mean multiple elements of conditionality too, if regimes backslide into the ways of the past.

How would such a programme need to develop? First, as was the case when the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development swung into action almost 20 years ago, these societies are in need of capital investment. The European Union’s High Representative has spoken about the European Investment Bank increasing its work in north Africa, and I take from the brief reference to that that the Government are supportive of the suggestion.

Mr MacShane: Yesterday a number of Members from all parties met Tunisian Ministers and the Tunisian ambassador, and found out that, rather dismayingly, Tunisia has not been, and is not, what is called a priority country in respect of the overseas trade activities of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That highlights the real problem: we have taken our eye off the north African ball for far too long—that applies to both recent Governments.

Mr Alexander: Let me continue the recently established tradition of the Foreign Secretary in thanking my right hon. Friend for that intervention, especially given that the next paragraph of my speech addresses the issue of trade.

I welcome the fact that the Government now advocate that the Commission should be developing a package of trade measures that addresses in particular the tariffs

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and quotas that currently lock out north African agricultural goods, not least those from Tunisia. Further, each European country, with their different democratic traditions, should stand ready to assist those countries working to strengthen and support civil society. I hope I speak for all in this House in paying tribute to the work of our own Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and I hope it will be able to play an active role in supporting that transition.

However, just because the media’s focus has moved on from Egypt, that does not mean the process of change in Egypt is now complete. When the Minister winds up, will he update the House on what discussions the Government have had with the military authorities in Egypt about the timetable and preparations for the free and fair elections?

Mr Cash: On the right hon. Gentleman’s recitation of the advantages of the EU in the context of trade and investment, it should be pointed out that we have been supplying moneys to the Maghreb countries for generations, so there is nothing new in that. The real question about the crisis in Libya, and the massacre that may yet come, is this: does he believe it was right that there was resistance within the EU to the no-fly zone, and what does he think about the failure to lift the embargo for those in the part of Libya around Benghazi who need arms and are fighting valiantly, but who are increasingly in peril?

Mr Alexander: Let me try to address each of the three questions that the hon. Gentleman cunningly asked within that single intervention. First, I was seeking to make a different point about the EU position. I was saying that trade barriers are a crucial issue if we are to enable these countries to trade their way out of the stagnation that has contributed to many of the problems in the region. I accept that there are issues in relation to resource transfer, and I am on the record as saying about the EU’s external budget that we should look at whether, for example, resources should be transferred from Latin America to north Africa in the light of what we have witnessed. There is a pressing challenge in relation to trade, therefore.

Secondly, on the European Council’s deliberations on Friday, it was disappointing that there were such discordant voices around the table. It is not yet fully clear to me whether a specific proposal was tabled at the EC, or whether a general conversation ensued. From my experience of working in the Foreign Office as Europe Minister in a different period, I was surprised that the judgment was made that a joint letter issued by the British Prime Minister and the French President was likely to secure European unity. Given the need to try to secure not least the support of Chancellor Merkel, I would have thought a more judicious approach might have been to try to ensure the co-operation and engagement of Berlin at an earlier stage in the process.

The hon. Gentleman’s third point was about the arming of the rebels. I have consistently made it clear during this crisis that all options should remain on the table and all contingencies should be considered by the international community. I am not convinced that the EU would be the appropriate body in that regard, but I have said that all contingencies should remain on the table.

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Let me now make a little more progress with my speech. First, I ask the Minister who winds up this evening to answer the following questions on Egypt: have the British Government taken steps to ensure that the Egyptian authorities release the political prisoners who were detained at the time of the protests, and what specific recommendations have been made on the recognition of trade unions and other institutions in Egyptian civil society?

On 14 February, the Secretary of State told this House:

“We have also received a request from the Egyptian Government to freeze the assets of several former Egyptian officials. We will of course co-operate with this request, working with EU and international partners as we have done in the case of Tunisia. If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets, we will take firm and prompt action.”—[Official Report, 14 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 715.]

We discovered only at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday of this week that the Government did not have the necessary information from the Egyptian authorities and that our European partners were not moving quickly enough. Will the Minister therefore tell the House what steps the Government have taken to get the necessary information from the Egyptian authorities, and what the Government are doing to move the process along in the European Union?

Bahrain has, rightly, already been the subject of a number of interventions. The situation in Bahrain is deeply worrying, and it is deteriorating. The real risk today is not simply that the legitimate aspirations for reform and change in that country are denied—important thought that is—but that this tiny island could become the violent fulcrum of a wider battle for regional influence. That is why I stand with the Government in their urging of restraint in these dangerous days. Indiscriminate violence used against peaceful protests is unacceptable anywhere and should be condemned comprehensively.

The security response taking place in Bahrain cannot be a substitute for a political resolution. A political solution is necessary and all sides must exercise restraint and work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all the Bahraini citizens. I listened with care to the Foreign Secretary’s remarks indicating that our Prime Minister had talked to the King of Bahrain and that the Foreign Secretary himself had spoken to the Bahraini Foreign Minister, and I welcome those interventions, but may I ask the Minister to tell the House what representations the Government of the United Kingdom have made to the Government of Saudi Arabia to urge restraint, and have our Government obtained a clear picture of Saudi Arabia’s intentions in Bahrain?

Reform towards a constitutional monarchy is being countenanced not only in Bahrain: in Morocco on 9 March King Mohammed tasked a group of esteemed Moroccans, including dissidents, to draft a new constitution. In particular, he called for a separation of powers, including an independent judiciary, a more equitable system of governance across the country’s provinces, and a series of amendments that would enshrine individual liberties, human rights and gender equality. What some have called “the King’s revolution” must translate words into deeds and the promise of reform into the reality of change.

Elsewhere across north Africa and the middle east we need to be consistent in urging the embrace of more democratic reform, which is why, on Yemen, the

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Government are right to urge progress on national dialogue with opposition parties and democratic reforms. Clearly, there also needs to be a clear plan for economic development and poverty reduction in Yemen, as well as an intensification of action against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Keith Vaz: I wholeheartedly agree with what my right hon. Friend has said, which is much in accordance with what the Foreign Secretary has said on Yemen. As my right hon. Friend started the Friends of Yemen process last year, in January 2010, does he not believe it is important that it continues? I was disappointed to learn that the meeting will not be taking place in Riyadh next week, but even if a formal meeting does not take place it is important that we ensure that what has been started should be completed; otherwise, we will see al-Qaeda running Yemen.

Mr Alexander: As so often, my right hon. Friend speaks with great authority on Yemen. Of course, it was under the previous Government that the Friends of Yemen process started, when we welcomed Secretary of State Clinton here to London. At that time, clear and solemn undertakings were given that the international community would not forget Yemen; and that there would be a continuing focus not simply on the real security issues that are of direct concern in the United Kingdom and other countries, but on a commitment to the long-term development that is necessary. If my recollection serves me rightly, Yemen is the only low-income country in the middle east. It has a truly horrendous number of weapons per head of population and is afflicted by many simultaneous challenges. Although I fully respect the fact that difficult judgments have to be made on the formal timing of meetings, I agree with my right hon. Friend that we must not lose sight of or the focus on the continuing urgency and importance of the situation in Yemen.

May I also take this opportunity to condemn outright the utterly unacceptable behaviour of Iran that resulted, on 5 February, in British special forces seizing a shipment of suspected Iranian arms intended for the Taliban in Afghanistan? That is but further proof, if any were needed, of the real danger that Iran poses, not only through its nuclear programme but through its continuing policy of attempting to destabilise its neighbours in the region. We are fully with the Government in their efforts to deal with Iran, and I agree with the Foreign Secretary when he says:

“Iran should not think that recent events in the middle east”—

and north Africa—

“have distracted the world’s attention away from its nuclear programme.”

Given the continuing risks represented by Iran’s nuclear programme and Iran’s failure to engage in any serious way in the recent talks in Istanbul, could the Minister perhaps update the House on the Government’s discussions with international partners on the next steps to increase the legitimate peaceful pressure on Iran to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency?

In the time remaining to me, I wish to deal with the most urgent and pressing issue of Libya. I agreed with the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington

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(Sir Malcolm Rifkind), a former Foreign Secretary, when he wrote in an article in

The Times

on Monday:

“The reaction of the international community to events in Libya has, so far, been uncertain, disunited and at best tactical rather than strategic.”

In recent days, the international community’s disagreements on the important issue of the no-fly zone has been a dispiriting reminder of the importance of the international community speaking with one voice in circumstances of crisis.

Robert Halfon: Given what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, does he accept that his Government got it wrong in having such close relations with Gaddafi, and in facilitating business and academic links? When he was responsible for the Export Credits Guarantee Department, he allowed defence equipment to go to Libya. Does he agree that that was a big mistake?

Mr Alexander: A trend seems to be developing whereby those on the Government Benches ask three questions under the guise of a single intervention. On the issue of arms exports, it is a matter of record and the records were rightly published transparently by the previous Government. I have also made it clear that if changes need to be made in relation to the consolidated agreement between the European Union and ourselves on arms sales, I will support the efforts of the Governments in that endeavour.

On the second issue, may I make a general point and then a specific one? The general point is that in trying to understand the stimulus to the changes that we are seeing across north Africa and the middle east, it is indisputable that engagement with the outside world has contributed, in part, to the extraordinary courage, passion and bravery that we saw from demonstrators in, for example, Tunisia and Egypt. In that sense, it is important that the default setting of the international community should be engagement with countries, even where there are profound and long-standing disagreements.

On the specific issue as to whether it was appropriate in the early years after 2001 to engage directly with Gaddafi, I find myself in agreement not with the hon. Gentleman, who is a Back Bencher, but with his Front-Bench team, who generously but wisely have recognised that foreign affairs at times involves dealing with those with whom one has profound disagreement in the service of a greater good, which in this case is the security of the United Kingdom and the broader international community. We were trying to address a situation in which Gaddafi had, by any reckoning, armed the IRA—he was responsible for the largest arms shipment to the IRA—and so had actively sponsored terrorism against United Kingdom citizens. He was also in the course of developing a capability for ballistic missiles, for nuclear missiles and for other weaponry. There is and will be the opportunity to look more broadly at what other lessons can be drawn from our engagement with Libya, but I do not resile from the difficult judgment that was exercised at the time to engage with Gaddafi, notwithstanding his record, in the service of what I think was the right judgment to make British citizens more secure.

Sir Menzies Campbell: May I take the shadow Foreign Secretary back to his expression of disappointment at the tentative nature of the international community’s

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response? Does he understand that those of us who were in the House during the Bosnian crisis feel some familiar echoes from that period, when the response of the international community was equally uncertain? Should we not have learned lessons from that unhappy period?

Mr Alexander: As so often, not only in recent days, but over many years in this House, the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks with great authority and wisdom. I was coming on to a passage in my speech where I was keen to suggest to the House that it is illuminating at times to take, momentarily, that longer view and to appreciate the full extent of the failure that we have seen over recent weeks.

In different times and, admittedly, in different circumstances, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen said of the Kosovo conflict:

“We ran a military campaign and in parallel we ran an information campaign. Both were professional and focused but it was, to my mind, the information campaign which won it.”

He went on to say:

“Publics across the world got the message that we meant business and that we were absolutely committed to achieving our objectives summed up succinctly as ‘NATO in, Serbs out, refugees home’. The Kosovars watched and were reassured by our resolution and in Belgrade the generals and the Serbs generally began to understand that once NATO had taken on a mission, it was simply not going to fail. And as they got that message their resolution crumbled and even though their immediate military advantage remained, they gave up.”

Sadly, the clarity, coherence and effectiveness of that communication have not been matched in recent weeks by the international messaging to the Gaddafi regime.

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Alexander: I am keen to make just a little progress.

The Foreign Secretary said on 27 February that

“it is time for Colonel Gaddafi to go, that is the best hope for Libya.”

A few days later, on 3 March, President Obama stated that “he must leave”. But since those categorical statements the urgency of the diplomatic efforts have, alas, not matched the urgency of the situation.

The Foreign Secretary has already told the House that the Prime Minister and the US President speak “extremely regularly”, so may I ask the Foreign Secretary to take this opportunity genuinely to confirm to the House what is more than of passing interest: whether or not the Prime Minister has spoken to President Obama regularly in the wake of this crisis, over the past seven days? I ask that question because Downing street briefings suggest that there has been only one telephone call, and I would be happy to afford the Foreign Secretary the opportunity to intervene on me today to clarify the facts. Calling for action is not the same as acting to ensure that the action takes place. Public statements at a time of crisis need to be matched by the important work of private diplomacy. I suggest that if ever there was a time when such dialogue, leader to leader, was needed, it is a time like now. Indeed, not only has uncertainty about the international community’s position delayed action, but it will have been closely observed in Libya itself.

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As United States Senator John Kerry commented yesterday, the time lost by the international community has

“compacted the choices, diminished the options. And it’s changed the state of play somewhat.

The calculation that many people in Libya might have made a week…10 days ago, if we’d started to announce and move certain things, might have been considerably different than the calculation that they might make today. And those calculations are critical in these kinds of events.”

Senator Kerry’s analysis is as accurate as it is devastating, for as we debate today the opportunity for meaningful action is simply slipping away.

Mr Offord: The right hon. Gentleman talks about a lack of action, but it is the Prime Minister who has provided that action, calling for a no-fly zone. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the lack of a voice across the international community, I believe that he is referring to the Obama Administration. When the call of “Democracy!” was shouted, where was the leader of the free world?

Mr Alexander: My point is that public declarations of support for a policy need to be matched by private diplomacy. It appears that there is a fashion in the Government to take a different view and a different approach from the previous Government on many aspects of policy. There might be a view in the present Government that the action the previous Prime Minister took ahead of the G20 meeting—getting on a plane, travelling to Brazil and travelling around the world making the case for concerted international action in circumstances of economic crisis—was somewhat overplayed. I personally think that there is a genuine need for action to be taken at this stage but that public words need to be matched by private conduct. In that sense, there must be concerted efforts to try to bring the international community together. That challenge is not unique to the United Kingdom—it is a responsibility that falls on all those in positions of leadership—and I would be the first to concede that this is a challenging and difficult set of circumstances in which, to date, the international community has not been united. That is why, however, I think it demands effort, skill, application and judgment to ensure that we do what we can to cohere the international community rather than further to divide it at a point at which judgments are being made not only in Tripoli but in Benghazi about the commitment of the international community to supporting these changes.

Martin Horwood rose—

Mr Jenkin rose—

Mr Alexander: I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood).

Martin Horwood: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a danger of Governments giving mixed messages. In that vein, will he accept that his Government did that too? Does he now regret granting arms licences and promoting arms sales—including of ammunition, crowd-control equipment and tear gas—to the Gaddafi regime in the closing years of the Labour Government? That does not sound like the sort of positive engagement that he seemed to be talking about earlier.

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Mr Alexander: Let me repeat my point: if there is evidence that British exports have been used in the appalling repression that we are witnessing, that should be cause for change. I stand ready to work with the Government effectively and in a constructive manner to try to secure the tightening of the arms regime if that proves necessary. On the substantive question of whether it was correct for the UK Government, many years ago, to engage directly with the Gaddafi regime, I think that there might be an honourable disagreement between the pair of us. I have made it clear that—

Martin Horwood: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Alexander: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will finish the point and then I will be happy to take a further intervention—perhaps from somebody who has not yet had the opportunity to intervene. I think that there can be an honest disagreement between us about whether it was right for the UK Government to engage with Gaddafi at the time. There has been much criticism of former Prime Minister Tony Blair for shaking hands with Colonel Gaddafi. I would simply point out that President Obama and Nelson Mandela have both shaken hands with Colonel Gaddafi. Any serious consideration of the issues recognises that it is important for there to be engagement with regimes in order to try to secure change.

Mr MacShane: I am afraid that my right hon. Friend is right. The former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who has just left the Chamber, was eloquent on this subject on the “Today” programme and in this House: the diplomatic gain of weaning Gaddafi off WMDs and terrorism was worth the connection. The previous Conservative Administration gave a knighthood to Robert Mugabe as Sir John Major tried to make friends with him and, up until 19 February of this year, those on the Government Front Bench were selling arms to Bahrain. I am not criticising them for that—I am sorry, but we are an arms-manufacturing and exporting nation. This is really the most piffling and irrelevant hypocrisy. The Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary are concentrating on important issues and the way we should go forward. Having this sort of row about who shook hands with who and which guns were sold—

Martin Horwood: And tear gas.

Mr MacShane: And tear gas. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) is part of the coalition Government who were selling tear gas and small arms weapons to Bahrain. He has no right to get pompous about what was happening before May 2010.

Mr Alexander: Let me try to turn to the events that are under way at the moment. I am also conscious that I have not given way to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), so let me do so now.

Mr Jenkin: Is not the most important issue in this debate the fact that events in Libya appear to be at a turning point? I am sure that the Government are grateful for the support that Her Majesty’s Opposition have given to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the no-fly zone initiative and the toppling of Gaddafi. Is

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this not, if it fails, a crucial test of the credibility of British foreign policy, which has perhaps not adapted to the shortage of defence capability we now suffer as a result of the strategic defence and security review or to the fact that we have a completely different kind of United States, which is prepared to be passive in an international crisis?

Mr Alexander: The hon. Gentleman is continuing the newly established tradition of making a number of points. Let me try to address them. On the substantive point of whether the hugely significant events we are witnessing in north Africa make the case for reopening the strategic defence review, I find myself in sympathy with him. Serious questions are prompted by the fact that we have aircraft carriers without planes, given the context of the discussions we are now having in this House.

The hon. Gentleman’s second point is important and I shall reflect on it in my remaining remarks. This is an issue not simply for the people of Libya or for the west, but for the broader interests of the international community. It appears from what we have heard that the decision was taken by the Saudi Arabian Government and the Gulf Co-operation Council to provide troops and tanks to the people of Bahrain without consultation with the United States. To me, that would have been inconceivable only a few weeks ago. It is one of the further assumptions that have been directly challenged by the huge events that we are witnessing across the region. I think, therefore, as I sought to reflect at the beginning of my speech, that this is a time of great possibility and also of great peril. If, however inadvertently, the message is heard by dictators and despots not just in the region but in the wider world that the words spoken by prominent international leaders are not matched by actions, that will be a worrying development with consequences far beyond the borders of Libya.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Is it not important that one message that is heard by dictators is that once they are indicted by the International Criminal Court, they will remain indicted and there will be a determination sooner or later to bring them to justice? There is no statute of limitation for war crimes or crimes against humanity, as Charles Taylor well knows as he stands trial in The Hague.

Mr Alexander: That is an important point. Of course, we have seen the trial of Charles Taylor but we have also seen the example of Milosevic, who died while on trial at The Hague. That is an issue on which we stand together, both in our advocacy at an early stage of the International Criminal Court and as regards its applicability in the face of the terrible scenes we are witnessing.

I am conscious that a number of Members are keen to speak, so I want to make progress. The Security Council meets as reports say Libyan rebels have deployed tanks, artillery and a helicopter to try to repel an attack by pro-Gaddafi forces on the key town of Ajdabiya. It is said by those on the ground to be the first time defecting army units have faced Government forces. If that town falls to Gaddafi, the next step will be Benghazi and the 1 million people who live there. It is often forgotten in the coverage that Benghazi is comfortably the second largest city in Libya.

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As I have argued over recent weeks, there are concrete steps that the international community can and should be considering to support the Libyan people who stand between invasion and acquiescence. A no-fly zone would be a strong step forward but it would not be a panacea. The importance of a no-fly zone, however, should not blind us to other measures that can be taken.

The Government should be considering a range of contingencies, such as taking measures to disrupt Gaddafi’s military communication and IT infrastructure and using British naval assets in concert with other nations to deliver further humanitarian support to areas such as Benghazi, so that Gaddafi cannot literally starve people into submission. Other possible actions include further efforts to set up an escrow account, as has been suggested by a Government Member, to hold revenues in trust for the benefit of the Libyan people rather than allowing those resources to be used for hiring foreign mercenaries, and, of course, taking immediate and strong diplomatic action against those countries whose nationals are fighting as mercenaries for Gaddafi in Libya.

I have been arguing for weeks now that the Arab League, which has been shown in recent weeks to be taking a leadership role in this crisis, should come together as a matter of urgency with the European Union in an emergency summit to communicate the breadth of international revulsion at the regime’s actions and the breadth of support for the Libyan people. I have also been arguing for the establishment of a friends of Libya group, bringing together the Arab League, the European Union and the United States to overcome the very institutional inertia that has so blighted the international response to date and to allow for rapid decision making in the face of rapidly changing events.

The Libyan people could be facing defeat in a matter of days. Time is not our friend. We should be under no illusion that if Gaddafi were to triumph, this would not only represent a defeat for the Libyan people, for whom the Arab spring would be replaced by a brutal and bleak winter, but would have long-term and damaging consequences for the United Kingdom, the European Union and the broader interests of reform and stability in the region. Now, at this late hour, debate must give way to decision and argument must give way to action. The international community’s response in the coming hours and days will not only impact upon events in Libya but will echo through history and will affect our strategic position and the future of democratic, social and economic reform across the broader region for years to come.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. This is a well-subscribed debate. There is a 10-minute limit on speeches with the usual injury time for two interventions.

1.42 pm

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): I do not propose to follow the formidable speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who dealt very easily with the situation in many of the countries that we are discussing, nor the Opposition’s preoccupation with the telephone habits of President Obama, but rather to concentrate on what has animated the extraordinary events that we have seen across the middle east in the past few weeks.

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In north Africa and the wider middle east, we are now at the centre of the most momentous events. History is sweeping through the region. The events that we are debating today were inevitable but largely—indeed, almost wholly—unforeseen. A Tunisian man who set himself on fire because no official of a deeply corrupt state would listen to him after months of his asking has caused the lid to be blown off an entire region with frail institutions, scant civil society and virtually no democratic traditions or culture of innovation. We are, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, witnessing something akin to the importance of the fall of the Berlin wall, and we will need to be clear in the days ahead about what these developments mean and how Britain and the west in general should respond to them.

The democratic transition will be a very hard road to follow, for the truth is that the much-vaunted stability that we all went along with for generations was a stability frozen in time and that the hopes and aspirations now stirring in many parts of the Arab world have been smothered for generations. People are now seeking their rights, sometimes at great personal danger to themselves. Nothing will ever be the same again, and a complete policy rethink will be demanded and required in the days ahead as we all struggle to keep up with unfolding events. I urge the House not to underestimate the profound sense of change sweeping across the whole middle east that the Arab humiliation is now over and that there is a long overdue dawn of pride and dignity and a great expectation that freedom and opportunity have arrived—a tide that is unstoppable and that brings with it great uncertainty and very great difficulties.

Contrary to much received opinion and caricature, quite apart from its vast, unmatched contribution to civilisation in the past, the Arab world is proving that it rejects injustice, that it wants freedom and that it is willing to die for democracy. There is thus no overstating the importance of the fact that this Arab revolution is the work of the Arabs themselves. The answer is broadly that reform, and not repression, is the way to lasting stability, and Arab Governments need to understand very quickly that denying people their basic rights does nothing to preserve even a veneer of stability. As W. B. Yeats said after the difficulties in Dublin:

“A terrible beauty is born.”

I fear that the wealthy western nations have regarded with complacency for far too long the hopeless stagnation of many Arab countries. Protesters in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Bahrain, Gaza, Algeria and Tunisia are denouncing the malignancy of joblessness, the lack of opportunity and the dreadful corruptness of oppressive rule. It is thus far bad news, in my judgment, that no single leader in the Arab world has yet put forward a creative political strategy to address this discontent, opting instead for half-measures designed principally to safeguard the very systems that public opinion is rejecting. We do not know where this will end, but Britain must play a big role and I am confident that she will do so, particularly through the judicious use of our soft power with all that that involves.

Further, as the Prime Minister has said, now is not the time to park the middle east peace process. I pay great tribute to the energetic work of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), in the middle east and I commend the

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excellent way in which he goes about his very difficult job. I hope that he will consider whether it would be right to resurrect the Arab peace initiative of 2002—the Saudi peace initiative—which still lies on the table and is the only remaining architecture extant for the continuation of the peace talks. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and I take a slightly different view on these matters but we both want to see peace in the middle east. He is a doughty champion of these causes and he knows that peace cannot come about unless the Arabs and the Palestinians are made to go back to the table and proceed. There is no better time than now; an Arab peace initiative at this time would give the Arabs face and confidence, and the Israelis should seize this moment. They should see that a tide and spirit of change is sweeping though the middle east and should catch this great surf of history.

Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) might think, the European Union can give substantial practical help to the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law within the Arab League countries, particularly via the Barcelona process and through many other means. We should, of course, provide every assistance that we can to those countries that clearly intend to do the right thing. Britain should press in the Council of Ministers and the Foreign Affairs Council for properly supervised arrangements to support the training of police and civil servants and the setting up of electoral commissions and independent legal and prosecution services. We should also seek to assist in the building of political and other institutions—a piece of work that has been most admirably done by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to which an hon. Member has already paid tribute. We should, at all costs, provide large-scale assistance for those countries that are truly prepared to change.

The peoples of the middle east now demand a better life. After years of betrayal, bad government and oppression, they deserve the opportunity to enjoy the rights and freedoms that we take for granted. I am confident that the British Government, with our American allies and European partners, will play a bold and energetic role in securing that endeavour.

1.50 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): As we look at these events around the world, we must reflect on whether there are historical parallels and past occasions when similar things have happened. At the moment, everyone is talking about the events in central and eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, in the late 1980s, but there are other parallels, such as what happened in the revolutions of 1848. We could also draw parallels with the student protests of 1968.

The important thing about this revolutionary process is that it has been widely broadcast through new technologies that did not exist in those eras. As a result, as we have clearly seen, the regimes have tried to stop such technology, close down the internet and prevent people inside and outside from accessing messages on Facebook, on Twitter and online. That is another argument for retaining BBC World Service shortwave radio broadcasts at key times, and the Foreign Affairs Committee is engaged in that debate with Ministers.

The other difference from 1989 is that while these events are happening in a multitude of Arab Muslim

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countries, there is no Gorbachev figure. There is no restraining hand on Erich Honecker. There is no one to persuade and to deal with the situation faced by Jaruzelski in Poland. Of course, we had Ceausescu in 1989, and perhaps the closest parallel with Saif Gaddafi is Nicu Ceausescu. I do not know whether the Ceausescu family’s fate will befall the Gaddafi family, but there is nevertheless a clear parallel: a family regime that uses the state as its own private bank. Unfortunately, the Libyan regime is not the only one for which that is the case. We have heard reports from Tunisia, and there have been accusations about the Mubarak family in Egypt. I read on the web just a few hours ago that there is a “kleptocracy” in Bahrain.

The public can now access information in ways that they could not in the past. The United Nations Arab human development report that was published about a decade ago highlighted the lack of publications and limited number of books per head of population in the Arab world compared with other parts of the world. However, such availability is not as necessary when a generation of young people can access new technologies. There has therefore been an acceleration of change, especially among the young populations of north Africa and Arabia who, in huge numbers, are unemployed. This social and global phenomenon will continue for decades.

The hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) said that not everything that happens in such revolutionary situations is pleasant. Some very unpleasant things came out from underneath the stones in 1989 and 1990: growing anti-Semitism, racism and nationalism. We may well find that one of the consequences of the removal of military authoritarian regimes will be that people lose not only their fear, but their inhibition about saying things that are difficult and unpleasant.

We have already heard comments about what the Iranian Government might be up to. I worry that those people who want to gain political power by attacking other minorities will do so in ways that lead to tensions and conflicts between Sunni and Shi’a. We have seen the terrible carnage caused by that conflict in Iraq. We were right—I stand by my opinion—about the removal of the Saddam regime, but none of us estimated quite what terrible crimes would be carried out as a consequence of lifting that repression. That problem is still not resolved in Iraq.

Egypt is at the beginning of the process, so what will happen there? There will be a presidential election and a new constitution, and then, as in central and eastern Europe, we will probably see a multitude of small political parties—or individuals and groups calling themselves political parties.

Some 22 years ago, I was working in the Labour party’s international department. My job was to go to central and eastern Europe, where I met people who said, “We are the true new social democratic party.” I met groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia as was, Russia and elsewhere who all said that they were the true inheritors of the social democratic tradition. People from the Conservative party were also involved in a similar way, because the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) was in Prague just a few weeks after me in late 1989. We all discovered that most of the people who claimed to represent the new political forces did not do so at all.

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The process will take time, and we will need dedicated and well-funded democracy-building exercises throughout the Arab world. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy has been mentioned. I chaired its board until 2005. At that time, its total budget from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was £4.1 million, which was peanuts, but since then it has been cut. I understand that it will receive an additional £500,000, which is welcome, but that will still leave its budget below what it was a few years ago.

International democracy foundations need to work together. Our Government, our European partners, the National Democratic Institute in the US, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Germany, for example, need to work in a co-ordinated way because governance, democracy and institution building will take time. It would be useful if people from central and eastern Europe could make a contribution because many of them went through such a process 10, 15 or 20 years ago.

Finally, if, potentially, Gaddafi regains control of Libya, we will face the most immediate, appalling crisis. It will be perceived as a major setback. It will send a clear signal, which may already have been picked up in Bahrain, that regimes can keep power if they are repressive and brutal because the international community will either make grandiose statements, as many Europeans have done—I am not critical of our Government on these matters, as we are doing the right thing and are on the right side—or prevaricate, as unfortunately the Americans have done. Let us hope that the Security Council adopts a robust resolution today and then does the right thing.

2 pm

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my predecessor as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Leaving aside his international adventures on behalf of the Labour party, I agree with everything that he said. I also pay tribute to the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). No one has a better knowledge of the Arab world than he has. There was much power in what he said. I particularly agree with the important point that the EU has a role to play in this.

It was Comrade Lenin who said that revolution is unpredictable but when it comes it comes very quickly. I think that the speed with which everything has happened has caught us all very much on the wrong foot. With hindsight, we should have seen it coming after last year’s food riots in Egypt, brought about by unsustainable levels of population growth and the fact that 50% of its population is under 25. The other factor that combined with others to form the prefect storm is the role of the internet as the method of communication of those young people, which the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) referred to. The situation is fast-moving but has a long way to go. I watch with concern how things are developing in Bahrain and possibly in Saudi Arabia. I believe that things will get worse before they get better.

I support what the Prime Minister said in his statement on Monday: that we must encourage freedom, democracy and an open society in the Arab world. He said that

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against the background of the EU resolution calling for broader market access and political co-operation. These are desperately important factors, but there is a whiff of inconsistency here. We have lived with this situation since the second world war, and the reason we have turned a blind eye to much of this is that we want the energy resources of the region. I think that we should give those countries time to make the transition. In Britain, 300 years passed between the civil war and women getting the vote, so we should not be driven by the drumbeat of the 24/7 media. We should give those countries time to develop their reforms as they come naturally.

The major issue of the day, and the one I have been most concerned about for some weeks, is the no-fly zone. The Prime Minister set out three conditions that would have to be met before he would support a no-fly zone: regional support, a demonstrable need and a clear legal basis. With the resolution of the Arab League, there is clearly regional support. Demonstrable need is subjective. We have moved on from the slaughter of innocent women and children and now have a civil war in Libya. In truth, we will be taking sides, and the rebels are armed. I think that we have to look at the clear legal basis very carefully indeed, because we can see the mess that we got into in Iraq because of the uncertainty over whether there was a clear legal basis. What we need is clarification.

The need for a UN chapter VII resolution is crystal clear, but I would be surprised, and relieved, if we got it. Whether or not Russia or China will veto it remains to be seen. If we do get it, we can all row in behind the Government because we will have a clear legal basis. I wish them well in their efforts in the coming hours to achieve that.

Mr Ellwood: I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend’s very powerful speech. He mentioned the Prime Minister’s three conditions. I humbly urge caution, in the words used by the Arab League. It is an important symbolic gesture, bringing together a collective voice, but it has no power. The organisation is made up of Foreign Ministers who have no organisational power over many of the dictators to whom they report back. In making a statement and linking it to their respective Governments, they have as much power as the Foreign Affairs Committee has when it produces a report.

Richard Ottaway: In that case it has great force. Joking aside, my hon. Friend makes an important point, but we cannot ignore a resolution of the Arab League. It is indicative of the way things are shifting.

My concern is that we might get a legal basis that is not clear. If we do not get a chapter VII resolution, the fallback situation would be what is known in the UN as a responsibility to protect. It is not clear whether that is a part of international law. It suggests

“collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII”.

It sets as high a hurdle as a chapter VII resolution. We are yet to see how things will develop, but I would be rather surprised if we were to get that through. We would then be left with a legal basis that was not clear. If there is another doctrine, I would very much like to hear it.

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Yesterday, the Government added a fourth condition: the national interest. In the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday I asked the Foreign Secretary how he would reply to a request from a country such as Ivory Coast, where genocide was going on, or Burma or Somalia—there are plenty of places with internal conflict. He replied that that has to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and that is under the national interest. If we intervene in Libya, will that set a precedent that will be relied on by those countries?

That means, in effect, that we are picking our countries. Let us be clear exactly what that means. It is a reincarnation of the Chicago doctrine introduced by Tony Blair 12 years ago. It is worth reading the speech that he made in April 2009 in Chicago, 10 years after his original speech in Chicago. He said that it

“argued strongly for an active and engaged foreign policy, not a reactive or isolationist one: better to intervene than to leave well alone. Be bold, adventurous even in what we can achieve.”

That is a pretty gung-ho approach. I am not saying that the current Government are being gung-ho, but it is a warning about how we could get carried away unless we sit back, are rational and address the need for a clear legal basis.

We then have the problem of what will happen if another Arab state behaves in the same way as Libya does. We have seen what is going on in Bahrain, with the state of emergency. We all heard reports on the radio this morning of protesters being killed. We cannot intervene in every case. We could end up with a very awkward situation where one Arab country provides aircraft to help police the no-fly zone and then ends up attacking its own people. Then what is our national interest?

I would add a fifth condition. If this does not succeed, we must have a strategy. There has to be a plan B. Where exactly is this leading? My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) has great experience of the no-fly zone in Bosnia, and there was a no-fly zone in Iraq. In both cases, we had to put in ground troops to seal the deal and finish the job. A no-fly zone in Libya is most likely to end up with a stalemate in which the rebels cannot lose and Gaddafi cannot win.

Mike Gapes: Does the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that the ground troops did not go into Iraq in 1991 and 1992 and that for 11 or 12 years the no-fly zones, which protected the Shi’a marsh Arabs in the south and the Kurds in the north, were very effective in stopping Saddam using his air force to bomb them?

Richard Ottaway: I have heard the hon. Gentleman make that point before, and the answer to it is that Saddam Hussein remained in Baghdad. My point is that the policy under discussion would end in stalemate, too, with Colonel Gaddafi still in Tripoli, the rebels in Benghazi, a no-fly zone and a completely static situation.

If we want to get rid of Colonel Gaddafi, we will have to use ground troops, so I would like the Minister to answer the question, what is our commitment on ground troops? Would we be prepared to use them to finish the job? What is the Government’s attitude to the use of warships? The war is being conducted along a coastal strip. At the end of the day, if we commit to a no-fly zone, we have to be prepared to finish the job and to put troops in on the ground, otherwise we should not

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start. That is why I am concerned about where this is all leading. I do not think that we have the troops to put in on the ground, and that is why I come to the difficult conclusion that, without a UN resolution, we should not consider a no-fly zone.

The Prime Minister posed a question to people such as myself, who have their reservations about a no-fly zone, when he said on Monday:

“‘Do we want a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border, potentially threatening our security, pushing people across the Mediterranean and creating a more dangerous and uncertain world for Britain and for all our allies as well as for the people of Libya?’”—[Official Report, 14 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 27.]

That is a very good question, and it deserves an answer. My answer is, we have had this pariah state for 42 years, and we have lived with it: we have put up with it; we had to bomb it once; we had Lockerbie; and we are still here and it is still there.

I do not want to see us get sucked into a war—a dispute—in the middle east. We need to tighten the noose as hard as we can, with the toughest sanctions possible, and if necessary we need to give all support, short of intervention, to the rebels. But we should not go down the road of arguing, campaigning or pushing for a no-fly zone without a UN resolution on either chapter VII or the responsibility to protect. There are huge risks politically and militarily without one, and I urge the Government to proceed with caution.

2.12 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): The hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), adverted to what took place with regard to the liberation of Kuwait. Kuwait was liberated because Margaret Thatcher, together with the President of the United States, decided that the situation could not be allowed to continue.

Mike Gapes: John Major.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: John Major, but Margaret Thatcher was also involved.

In the same way, action not words dealt with the situation in the former Yugoslavia. My hon. Friend is right in his conclusion that, if the situation in north Africa is to be solved in any way acceptably, it will be by action, not by continued talk. The world community should hang its head in shame at the prolonged delay to take practical action on behalf of the people of Libya.

Time is very short, indeed, before it becomes too late, but complacent indifference has long dominated the west’s approach towards Gaddafi’s brutality. Even in recent months, the Home Office has insisted deplorably on sending a Libyan asylum seeker back into Gaddafi’s clutches, just as it insists on sending asylum seekers back to Iran. As usual, the United States, under its present Administration, has been vocal about Libya, but words are easy; action is what counts.

In the case of Israel’s transgressions and brutalities, the Americans have been even more shameful. As is his wont, Obama has been long on self-indulgent, vacuous rhetoric, but absent when it comes to meaningful action. Let us witness the illegal Guantanamo Bay torture

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camp, remaining open two years after he promised that it would close. “Absent”, though, understates Obama’s pernicious policies. When he sought to wheedle the Israelis into a moratorium on settlement building, he promised that if they paused such building he would veto any Security Council resolutions regarded as critical of Israel. The Israelis ignored him, and still he vetoed the recent, otherwise unanimous, Security Council resolution on settlements.

Yet that United States Administration, if they wished, could bring the Israelis to heel, simply by cutting off the supply of arms and economic aid to that rogue country. Economic sanctions on Israel work, as was demonstrated when President Bush senior forced Yitzhak Shamir to talks in Madrid by suspending loan guarantees.

Certainly, when it comes to rogue regimes, the world is long on denunciations but short on action, and it is important to place on the record those transgressions against international law by a country that has one of the most aggressively right-wing regimes in the world. The Israelis have built an illegal wall through occupied Palestinian territory, in many, many cases cutting Palestinians off from their livelihoods, as I have seen for myself recently. The Israelis’ settlements are, again, a violation of international law, yet they expand them. Again, I recently saw for myself how, in Jerusalem and elsewhere, settlers, with the connivance of the Israeli police, throw Palestinians out of their homes and force them to live in tents. Israel’s hundreds of checkpoints on the west bank make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for Palestinians to get to workplaces, schools, universities and hospitals. The Jordanian Foreign Minister told me recently how, when he was travelling with the Palestinian President on the west bank in separate cars, he felt obliged to invite the President to travel in his car, because the President’s own car was continually being stopped at checkpoints.

Mrs Ellman: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Gerald Kaufman: I will proceed for a moment. I think I can anticipate the kind of thing my hon. Friend would say if I were to give way to her. The Israelis kill Palestinians whenever they feel inclined. They have killed two this very week, and the blockade of Gaza—of 1.5 million people—is totally illegal. Rebuilding after the havoc caused by the Israeli invasion has been minimal because of the Israeli embargo on the entrance of many supplies. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency reported to me on the appalling effect on nutrition of the Israeli blockade. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children are growing up malnourished, and that affects both their physical and mental growth. The estimable head of UNRWA, whom I have met several times, says that the alleged easing of the blockade, following the Israeli attack on the flotilla on 31 May, has made the situation worse. He himself has given up and is taking on another assignment outside Palestine. Of course, the Israeli navy does not hesitate to commit piracy in international waters, either.

The Israelis have the most extremist Government in their history, with a Foreign Minister who is actively racist and overtly advocates ethnic cleansing. The Israeli Parliament, elected by proportional representation, which

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should be a warning to us all about changing electoral systems, now persecutes non-governmental organisations that work for progress and racial harmony.

The Israelis do not believe in a two-state solution and are completely uninterested in any kind of genuine peace process, yet what is being done to curb this regime? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. They get away with it by exploiting guilt over the holocaust. They get away with it by whimpering about their need for security, when they have the strongest armed forces in the region, nuclear weapons and the fourth-strongest armed forces in the world. They get away with it, because Obama, apprehensive about the United States presidential election next year, is scared of Jewish pressure groups in the United States.

The world’s tolerance of the Israeli persecution of 5 million Palestinians is a blot on whatever international morality exists. When Palestinians commit atrocities, as with the murderous attack on the Fogel family of settlers last weekend, there is justifiable anger. Israeli soldiers shot two Palestinian parents dead in front of their children in Gaza, as those children told me: the girl stood there, an Israeli soldier shot her father in the head, and then shot her mother in the head. When things like that happen, nobody bats an eyelid.

We are right to be profoundly concerned about Libya and about the lethal tension in certain Gulf states. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South is absolutely right when he says that if the people of Libya go under, other countries will take that as a lesson that suppressing their populations by force works. This is a very big test for the entire world community. We are right to be vigilant about Tunisia, and right to keep an anxious eye on Egypt to ensure that the revolution there is not baulked or frustrated. But until the world takes action to force Israel to deal justly with the Palestinians, the middle east will remain a turbulent and dangerous region and a blot on all our consciences.

2.20 pm

Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I should like to touch briefly on matters relating to Libya, and then, as chairman of the all-party group on Tunisia, to refer to that country.

I wish to revert to the comments that I made to the Prime Minister following his statement to this House on Monday. In 1956, the Hungarians were led to believe by the United States that were there to be a revolution, the Americans would give them support. There was a revolution. I remember sitting in our kitchen as a 13-year-old, listening to a crackling valve radio, with a voice from Budapest screaming at us, “Help me, help me!” No help came. The US cavalry did not arrive, the Russian tanks rolled into Budapest, and the revolution was crushed. A decade later, almost the same thing happened in Czechoslovakia. Alexander Dubcek was removed, the west did not help, the Russian tanks moved in, and the revolution was crushed. I believe that unless the free world stops talking and starts acting within the next 48 hours, then as far as Libya is concerned, the Arab spring will be over, and that revolution, too, will be crushed.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took a brave lead in calling for a no-fly zone, and he was derided by the British media for sabre-rattling. That, of

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course, is precisely the same courageous British media who are now complaining that the Americans are not backing a no-fly zone forcefully enough.

Richard Ottaway: Quite right.

Mr Gale: My hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, says “Quite right”, but his view is that we should not act because we should not walk to the drumbeat of the 24/7 media. I fear that we shall shortly be walking to the drumbeat of death if no action is taken.

The supply lines from Tripoli to Benghazi are long. It is a moot point as to whether Colonel Gaddafi’s regime can service troops entering Benghazi, so the logical progression is that he will use his war planes. I do not believe that Colonel Gaddafi will be remotely concerned about bombing and rocketing the women and children of Libya. Unless the free world moves to take out the planes on the runways, innocent women and children will die, and the revolution will end. This morning, I received a telephone call from rebels currently in London. They told me that they have three aircraft that they have used so far—sparingly, because they do not have the resources to back them up.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) has referred to the lunacy of UN Security Council resolution 1970, which imposes an arms embargo on an already very uneven playing field. Gaddafi’s regime has the weapons, the resources and the back-up; the rebels do not. At the very least, therefore, the free world has to allow the rebels the opportunity to obtain the equipment that they need to defend themselves. I do not believe that anybody can be held to account for allowing people to fight for what they believe to be right in their way and to defend their women and children. I can only repeat: failure to act will lead, within a very short time, to the end. What has been described as the defining moment will be a defining moment in the failure of democracy, and those who have failed to act will have the blood of the innocent on their hands. It may yet prove to be the defining moment of Mr Obama’s legacy.

Turning to Tunisia, the entire process began as a result not particularly of oppression, although of course that was a very relevant factor, but of unemployment. Very many bright, well-educated and well-qualified people in Tunisia found themselves unable to earn a living. We need to look carefully at what is happening in Tunisia and what will happen unless we give the Tunisians wholehearted support. There were some 400,000 jobs related to tourism in Tunisia prior to the revolution. That translates into a dependency on tourism of some 2 million people—two in 10 of the population. Hatem Atallah, the Tunisian ambassador, came to the House of Commons yesterday and told us that in the first three months of this year Tunisia’s tourism has effectively been halved. Of the 7 million visitors a year, 3 million came from Libya and related states, leaving 4 million from France, Germany and the United Kingdom. They need us to give them the support that will enable their businesses and commerce to survive. Without that, that revolution could also fail. The message is very clear: it is a 3,000-year-old civilisation, and it is open for business. We must have faith in that.

On 25 July, the elections will be held. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, the campaign

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papers that trigger the entire process will be deposited at the end of this month or very early in April. That will lead to the opportunity for the creation of the election commission, the rules of the election, the electoral process, the electoral register, and the approval of that register. Tunisia has already extended an invitation to international election observers from the European Union to go to see fair play. I hope and believe that this country will particularly wish to send observers and to give the Tunisian interim Government every possible help to ensure that the election is successful.

I repeat: in Tunisia, democracy is absolutely dependent on economic success. Economic failure was the reason for the revolution, and it could cause the country to fail again. I urge the Minister in responding to the debate to state clearly that we are four-square behind that regime and what it is trying to achieve, and that it has our good will.

To conclude, the Tunisian Foreign Minister yesterday passed Members a letter in which he said:

“I strongly believe that our two countries have the opportunity to further strengthen their friendship and partnership, on the basis of common interests and common values.”

If the Arab spring is to survive and if those words are to mean anything, Tunisia deserves and must have our support.

2.29 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): In 1993, the current President of Israel, Shimon Peres, wrote a visionary book called “The New Middle East”, in which, elated after the signing of the Oslo accords, he wrote about his concept of a community of nations across the middle east. He said that four conditions were required before that could become a reality: political stability, higher living standards, national security and democratisation. I hope that in recent weeks we have seen the beginning of that democratisation spreading across the middle east.

At this stage, none of us can be certain whether that will be successful. However, even now we can see that what has happened over recent weeks and what has come from the hearts of the people of the middle east have given the lie to the commonly accepted view that the only major conflict in the middle east is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that Israel is responsible for all the problems of the middle east. That has never been true and now it evidently is not true.

What is needed to solve the tragic conflict of the clash of nationalisms between the Jewish people in the state of Israel and the Palestinians, two peoples who deserve national determination in a land of their own? First, it is essential that there is a resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to create two states. Much has been said about the impact of the WikiLeaks revelations. Those revelations showed how close Palestinians and Israelis came to achieving a durable peace at the Annapolis conference in 2007. It is sad that when those leaks emerged, the Palestinian people realised that they simply did not know what their negotiators were doing. The Israelis were very well aware of what the Israeli negotiators were doing. What happened during the discussions at that conference shows that both sides were, and I hope are, willing to make the compromises necessary for a durable peace.

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It is important that it is recognised that Israel has genuine security issues. Two checkpoints were removed last month near Nablus. It is right that checkpoints are removed to support the development of the Palestinian economy, but it also has to be recognised that in the month following the removal of the those checkpoints, there have been two major incidents in or near Nablus. Only last week, the Fogel family were murdered, among them three children. Their throats, including that of a three-month old baby, were slit in cold blood in their home. That was a harsh price to pay. Such atrocities must be recognised, and it must be realised that Israel has genuine security issues. Much has been said of Israel’s action in Gaza in relation to its security. Just in the last few days, the Israeli navy seized a boat that had 50 tonnes of weapons hidden in bags of Syrian lentils. The boat was bound for Gaza and is thought to have come from Iran. That was a genuine security issue.

It is vital that proper recognition is given to the nature of Hamas, which is running Gaza. Hamas’s charter shows clearly what it is about. Its religious convictions mean that it cannot accept the concept of a Jewish state. It displays blatant anti-Semitism, such as in article 22 of its charter, which states that Jews

“amass great and substantive material wealth… With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we…hear about.”

That is just one example of the blatant anti-Semitism of Hamas. That should be recognised by those who talk loosely about “Jewish influence” impeding a solution of the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

Hamas recently attacked a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school because it did not like girls and boys being educated together. It has also said that it will prevent the teaching of the holocaust in Gaza, because it believes that doing so would poison the minds of Palestinians. In recent days the Foreign Press Association has bemoaned the clampdown on the press in Gaza, while Hamas continues to attack those who do not belong to or support its organisation.

In seeking a durable peace, it is also important that we recognise the malevolent influence of Iran in both Lebanon and Gaza. In just the past week the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has stated again that Israel is a “cancerous tumour”. The problem is not just about words, because by arming and training Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran is actively involved in preventing a negotiated peace between Palestinians and Israelis. The involvement of Iran adds to the complexity of the situation and must be recognised when people rush all too quickly, and without much thought, to condemn Israel as the reason why peace has not been reached. That is not the case.

Finally, it is vital that more is done on the domestic scene, and that there is a proper challenge to the hate talk against Jews and Israelis in this country and to the vicious boycott campaigns that are gathering force. The problem shows itself in many ways. It is leading to the attempt to create an atmosphere of intimidation on student campuses, where Jewish students feel increasingly uneasy, and disquiet is being caused among Jewish

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communities in this country. It is leading to anti-Semitic discourse, as shown so graphically by the invaluable work of the Community Security Trust.

I shall give just one recent example of what has happened. On 2 February, on the campus of Edinburgh university, a meeting was held at which Israeli diplomat Ishmael Khaldi, a Muslim Bedouin, attempted to hold a discussion. There was organised opposition to that meeting, and the microphone was snatched from him. He was forced to abandon the meeting, against cries of “Nazi”. That is both absurd and deplorable. That demonstration, like many others, was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an organisation that does not wish to see peace but wishes to sow the seeds of dissension. One of the consequences is that we are being taken further and further away from peace, and the seeds of anti-Semitism are being sown.

It is vital that efforts are maintained to find a solution to this complex problem. The two peoples have a right to a homeland, and the Jews in Israel and the Palestinians have a right to their land. All efforts must be made to bring both sides back to the negotiating table on the basis of creating two states. All the key issues—borders, refugees and the need to share Jerusalem—must be resolved around the negotiating table. I applaud all efforts that bring that situation about.

2.38 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Many of us are inspired by what we have been seeing in the middle east and north Africa in recent weeks and by the courage and heroism of the protesters, particularly the young people who have lived their entire lives under repression. Equally, many of us feel sick at the prospect of repression triumphing in many parts of the region.

In that vein, I welcome many of the things that the Foreign Secretary announced today. The new Arab partnership and the promise of practical support for what we hope are the emerging democracies of Egypt and Tunisia are excellent. I think he said that there would even be promotion of think-tanks. I am not entirely sure whether that is a good thing, but they are certainly better than the other kind of tank.

The Foreign Secretary also reported positive developments in both countries, including the abolition of their secret police organisations. That is welcome, but there are also worrying reports, including the recent one in Egypt about the forcible clearance of Tahrir square. The experience of Europe, Latin America and the new African democracies is that old habits sometimes die hard among security forces. Perhaps we should take up that theme with the Egyptian Government in particular and with all the emerging democratic movements.

It is also welcome that the Foreign Secretary described a bold and ambitious vision at the European level. A positive vision of transforming the European neighbourhood and actively promoting freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights is very good indeed, as is the role of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in that. I hope that the Department for International Development will also play an active role in considering how that programme should be carried out. It is very important that the people of the middle east and north Africa see a democratic dividend from their transition to democracy, and DFID can play an important role in that.

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Sadly, however, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights are not all that British Governments have promoted in the region. In 2009, EU arms exports to Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, none of which enjoyed good human rights records at the time, totalled €2.3 billion. Export licences granted by the previous Government—the most recent details I have are from 2009—make disturbing reading. We sold tear gas to Bahrain, imaging cameras to Iran, bombs and missiles to Egypt, anti-riot shields to Kuwait, crowd control equipment and tear gas to Libya, crowd control ammunition to Qatar, small arms ammunition to Syria, armoured personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia and so on. For that reason, I welcome the Minister’s announcement on 17 February that we were revoking many licences to export to Bahrain, and his unambiguous statement on that day:

“We will not authorise any exports…we assess…might be used to facilitate internal repression.”

That is an incredibly important announcement.

Jeremy Corbyn: I agree with the burden of what the hon. Gentleman says about arms sales and I welcome the suspension of arms sales to Bahrain, but we still pursue massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and the people dying on the streets of Bahrain are being killed with equipment that has been sent there from this country. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is time to stop the whole arms sales policy to that region?

Martin Horwood: Bluntly, yes—the use of Saudi arms and armour in Bahrain, particularly in the context of today’s disturbing pictures of unarmed protesters being shot in the streets by security forces, means that we must question any continuing arms sales to countries that have records of repression.

I regret that in the midst of the democratic revolutions, the Prime Minister, on his tour of the middle east, which had many positive aspects, was nevertheless accompanied by representatives of BAE Systems, QinetiQ, the Cobham group, Thales UK, Babcock International and Atkins.

In the spirit of coalition, I remind Ministers of the Liberal Democrats’ pre-election criticism of arms sales to the region, and specifically to Libya, and of our support for an international arms trade treaty and the prevention of arms sales to any regime that could use them for internal repression. That last objective has now been strongly expressed by the Minister, but I hope he confirms today that the sale of tear gas and crowd control ammunition to anyone is completely incompatible with those objectives.

There is a clear danger that Libya will not be seen in future in the same light as Egypt and Tunisia; sadly, we might see it alongside Czechoslovakia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Hungary as one of the great failures of the international community to intervene on behalf of the people. I do not envy the Foreign Secretary the decisions he must make, but I can assure him of Liberal Democrat support for any belated action by the international community, although he was right to be wary of any intervention that could be described as “western”. That would be a dangerous path to go down, and any intervention must be undertaken with wide international support.

I support the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander),

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the shadow Foreign Secretary, who said that we should look at other imaginative ways of intervening, particularly in respect of IT infrastructure, to make life impossible for the Libyan regime.

The hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) made an eloquent speech in which he called for a complete policy rethink. There is a lot of truth in that. At UK, European and international level, we need to review how we can rapidly respond to situations such as the one in Libya. We need to do that quickly, because similar situations could soon emerge elsewhere.

Mr MacShane: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that on 17 February I called on the Foreign Secretary to

“agree to a wide review of UK foreign policy in the region before it is too late”?—[Official Report, 17 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 1136.]

I made that call, and I am glad that one month later more Government Members are supporting it.

Martin Horwood: I am not sure what I am supposed to say to that, except that I have already said that I support a review of international policy. That has to happen quickly. We also need to review—unfortunately—how we treat brutal dictators who survive using violence and repression. That needs to be addressed urgently. At an international level, we need a strategy for persuading Russia and China in particular—both quick enough to intervene in their neighbourhoods—that the international community’s responsibility to protect needs to become a practical reality. Perhaps we also need some fresh faces in the international community’s peace efforts, not least in the context of the middle east, and Israel and Palestine. In that vein, will Ministers tell us exactly what contribution and progress the former Prime Minister Tony Blair is making in his role as the Quartet’s special envoy? He was always a rather bizarre choice as a middle east peace envoy, and I would like to know whether Ministers think the time has come for him to go and to make way for fresh faces and those slightly more actively engaged in the massive changes taking place in the region.

The clear policy of Arab partnership also needs to extend to states and people currently overlooked. I will end with one example that I hope Ministers will take up: the case of Dr Kamal al-Labwani. He is a Syrian doctor, writer and artist who took part in the brief but unsuccessful Damascus spring in 2001 and the founder of the excellently named Liberal Democratic Union. In 2005, he was charged with weakening national morale and imprisoned. He was behaving only as a free citizen in a free country would have done—an extraordinarily courageous approach once described in Europe by Vaclav Havel as living in truth—but it resulted in his imprisonment. The charge was changed to scheming with a foreign country with the aim of causing it to attack Syria, and he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. He is now on hunger strike, along with other prisoners in the Adra prison. His detention has been condemned by a UN working group on arbitrary detention as arbitrary and contrary to the UN declaration of human rights, and there is now disturbing news of fresh detentions and disappearances, including of members of Dr al-Labwani’s family, who bear no responsibility for any of his political actions. If we are to have a real Arab partnership for peace, democracy and reform in the region, it must

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reach out to people such as Dr al-Labwani and other courageous members of democratic movements who might not be in government, and not just to the emerging democratic Governments.

2.48 pm

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I want to comment on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but first on north Africa I want to say that I, like everyone who has spoken, welcome the popular uprisings that started in Tunisia. The hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) gave us the background to it: the suicide of the person involved and what followed in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and now Bahrain. However, I disagreed with him when he gave the impression that all along Britain has been on the side of those in Arab countries seeking freedom, dignity and respect. That has not been the position—I only wish it had been.

One of the few advantages of age is that one can remember what has happened in the past in one’s own lifetime. Sixty years ago, there was a reforming Iranian Government with Mossadegh as Prime Minister. In no way was he ever accused—it would have been farcical had he been—of being an Islamist or connected with terrorism. The truth was far from it. However, that reforming Government was overthrown by Britain and the United States, and of course a few years later came the sad and tragic Suez episode. We do not have an honourable record, and I only wish that we did.

It came as no surprise to anyone—certainly not to me—that Gaddafi’s murderous regime refused to give way, as happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Gaddafi was determined to stay on with his cronies. What is happening in Libya now is deplorable to say the least, and the International Criminal Court should certainly keep a careful record and prepare the necessary indictment of Gaddafi and those responsible. However, as I have argued in the past fortnight, I am not persuaded that western military intervention in that country would be the right course to pursue, let alone any unilateral action by Britain. It would be interpreted in most parts of the Arab world—if not by the Governments, then by the population—as an attempt once again to control a country because of its oil resources, and would be looked on as a colonial or imperialist intervention. As I said in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary, if we were to intervene in Libya, why not in Bahrain? What would be the argument for intervening militarily in one country, but refusing to do so in Bahrain? There would be absolutely no logic to it.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): May I politely suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the answer depends on the difference between Bahrain and Libya? We cannot adopt a world view that assumes that all those countries are the same; it is the specificities of those countries that are relevant.

Mr Winnick: Yes, of course there are differences, and no matter how non-democratic Bahrain is, I am not suggesting that it is on the same level as Gaddafi’s regime, but there has already been a foreign intervention in Bahrain. What I am saying—and I do not see how it could be contradicted—is that if we were to intervene in

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Libya, there would be no less of an argument for doing so in the case of Bahrain. However, if the United Nations Security Council agreed to a no-fly zone, it should be supported by the international community at large. That would give legitimacy if any intervention was to take place, but without such a resolution, there would be no legitimacy whatever.

One or two hon. Members who have spoken—including the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who spoke a few moments ago—have rightly deplored arms sales to Libya, but there was an arms fair in Libya last November. I am not making a party point now—if my side had been in government, that arms fair would obviously have taken place and we would have participated as a country—but is it not deplorable? We read of France and other countries deploring what is happening, but information published by the Library shows that

“Bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles…other explosives”

were all sold to Libya by France and Germany, including some no doubt sold by us. They are being used now against the Libyan people, so I ask the question: when we sold that ammunition, who did we believe it was going to be used against? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Let me say a few words in the time I have left about the Israel-Palestine dispute. My remarks will be somewhat different in tone from those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). It goes without saying that I deplore the murder of the Fogel family which occurred last week. There could be absolutely no justification, no matter what policies Israel had pursued, for that murder, which was absolutely deplorable. I totally agree with every single word that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside said about anti-Semitism, whether from Hamas or sources in this country. I recently had a letter in a newspaper where I again made it clear that there should be total condemnation of every aspect of anti-Semitism, and I doubt whether anyone here would disagree.

Similarly, what I am about to say should in no way be interpreted as any kind of justification for the murders, but some 1,355 Palestinian children have been killed as a result of Israeli military action in the occupied territories since 2000. There is obviously a difference. However much we deplore the military action, there is a difference between what I have just described and the deliberate murders that took place last weekend, but can anyone imagine what the parents of those Palestinian children must have gone through as they watched their children being killed? A book has been published recently about a Palestinian surgeon whose three daughters were killed. He has no desire for revenge; he wants reconciliation and a settlement. This is all part of the ongoing tragedy of a dispute that continues year after year. At the end of October last year, 256 Palestinian children were in Israeli detention, including 34 between the ages of 12 and 15.

I respect my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, and I respect the way in which she defends Israel at every opportunity, but I did not hear one single word of criticism of Israel in her speech. I have already said that I endorse her condemnation of anti-Semitism. As far as the occupied territories are concerned, however, there seems to be no recognition by Israel that the settlements are completely illegal under international law. Such settlements now occupy 42% of the land area

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of the west bank. Indeed, that was the figure last June; a large amount of construction has taken place since then. What justification exists for that? It is being done in defiance of international law.

I am very pleased indeed that the British Government supported the resolution deploring such settlements, although the resolution was unfortunately vetoed by the United States. I am not in the habit of congratulating this Government, but I am also very pleased that the Palestinian delegation here has now been upgraded to a mission. That is the right course of action, and I am sure that it is fully supported by those on my Front Bench.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op) indicated assent .

Mr Winnick: Israel, and those who support it, often refer to their wish for two states, but I do not see how that can be taken to be genuine if, at the same time, they use every opportunity to build further settlements in such a way that makes it almost impossible for a viable Palestinian state to come into existence.

If, as we all now recognise, there is a wish in the Arab world for a new life, for dignity, for the rule of law and for being able to work and to hold a similar position to those in the western world, why cannot the Palestinians have those things too? Do they deserve any less? How long must they remain under almost military colonial occupation? The Palestinian people have a right to a land and a state of their own, and I only hope that that will come about in my lifetime.

2.58 pm

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): We have certainly heard some interesting contributions in the debate today. Unfortunately, the previous speaker was not one of them.

Following the collapse of the Berlin wall, many political commentators were left considering what the implications would be, beyond that of a reunified Germany. Since then, we have seen changes in immigration across Europe, as well as different forms of terrorism being promoted and the economic markets being subjected to different problems from those that they had experienced before the fall of the wall.

I urge Members to consider what the implications of the recent unrest and demonstrations in the middle east will be. The collapse of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt as a result of the region-wide uprising provides a unique opportunity for the development of genuine democracy in the middle east. The Government must not, however, make the same mistake as occurred in Iraq, by introducing a political vacuum that extremism will fill.

In Egypt, the cultural and political heart of the Arab world and a strategic pillar of EU policy in the region, the stakes are immense. The emergence of a democratic Egypt could serve as a moderating element throughout the region and promote a more stable, peaceful and progressive middle east.

Democracy is, however, more than mere elections. To avoid having a repressive Government freely elected, it is first necessary to introduce and firmly establish institutions of democracy such as a free press, free speech, a constitution,

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freedom for religion and freedom from religion, equal justice under the law, laws based on individual rights and women’s rights and an independent judiciary. The UK should not press for immediate free elections without the fundamental pillars of democracy being in place. If democracy is not nurtured and built steadily, radicals will emerge. This will not only drive a wedge between Israel and the Arab world, but deepen the divide between the west and the Islamic world.

Recent history has shown that having free elections in a country, without the entrenched safeguards of a genuine democracy, can result in the election of oppressive and undemocratic organisations. These dangers were witnessed in 2006, following the election of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which subsequently launched a violent civil war to oust the moderate opposition group, Fatah. We also saw it in1979 in Iran after the Shah was toppled. Within nine months, radical Islamists cemented their control of the country with the election of the ayatollahs.

It will take time for legitimate political movements to establish themselves in Egypt, after several decades in which the extreme Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, stood as the only alternative, albeit outlawed, to President Hosni Mubarak’s monolithic national democratic party. The Muslim Brotherhood, as the only large organised opposition group, could use elections to get into power before completely abandoning democratic structures. It is one of the world’s most influential Islamist movements, guided by an expansionist and anti-Israel agenda, and its goal is to implement strict sharia law, which is the antithesis of democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood leader, Kamal al-Halbawi, issued a series of provocative statements on a trip to Iran in this month, and expressed his hope that Egypt would become a “true Islamic state”.

The political future of Egypt has implications that go far beyond that country’s borders. The UK Government must provide support for Egypt during this important transition period while making it clear to the current military leadership that it must continue to meet its regional responsibilities. Egypt has a critical role to play in promoting Israel-Arab dialogue: indeed, its peace treaty with Israel remains the cornerstone of wider peace and stability throughout the region. It is in the interest of the international community, Egypt and the wider middle east that this agreement remains firmly in place. The UK Government should also strongly urge Egypt’s military authorities to continue to confront radicalism, particularly by taking an active role in preventing the flow of weapons to Hamas in Gaza. Last week’s terror attack in Itamar, which claimed the lives of five Israeli civilians, along with the recent seizure of Iranian-supplied weapons designated for terrorists is a reminder that extremist elements pose an ever-present danger to regional peace efforts.

A truly democratic Egypt that promotes regional peace is of paramount interest for the UK. The UK Government can contribute to this by helping to foster the traditions and institutions of a democratic society and by actively encouraging the country to continue to play a positive and stabilising role in the region.

In mentioning the middle east, commentators often focus on Israel itself. Her detractors, as we have already heard this afternoon, claim human rights abuses, while her supporters speak of a beacon of democracy. I

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believe now is the moment when we can all unite to seek a better middle east. Now that the opportunity has arisen, the Government must ensure that the Quartet, with Tony Blair as its representative, takes a leading role in making it happen. For too long, there has been a political myopia as to what is happening in the middle east beyond the borders of Israel. Our debate today provides an opportunity to address that and reveal to the world the truth about what we can achieve in the middle east.